The Ordnance QF 18 Pounder, or the 18 Pounder, was the principle Field Gun of the British Army in World War One. This impressive gun formed the backbone of the Royal Field Artillery during the war, and due to its popularity and reliability, was produced in large numbers.
Extensively used, this artillery piece saw action in every theatre of the Great War. Its calibre of 84mm and shell weight made it more brutal and destructive than the French 75mm and German 77mm.
The first version was produced in 1904 and later variants saw action with the British Army until 1942. In particular, during the Inter-War Period, the 18 Pounder formed the basis for the equally famous 25 Pounder which would form the basis for British Artillery during World War 2.
The 18 Pounder was a quick firing horse-drawn field gun designed to be towed behind a limber and six horses. Originally, the barrel was wire bound with nickel-steel with a single motion screw breach with a cartridge extractor. The idea of fixing both shell and cartridge together gave it the term of ‘quick firing’.
Throughout World War One, the 18 Pounder was operated by the Royal Field Artillery, and in some cases, the Royal Horse Artillery.
The gun and its two wheeled ammunition limber were towed by a team of six light draught horses. The driver of the two horse team rode the left horse of each pair. The two wheeled ammunition limber was hooked up to the horses and the trail of the gun was hooked to the limber. Overall, the total weight of the gun, limber and carriage which amassed to 2 1/2 tons was supported on four wheels!
The gun detachments all rode into action either on the horses or on the limber, which was led by the detachment sergeant on his own horse. During the early stages of the war, the ammunition limber was positioned on the left of the gun, but as the war progressed and larger quantities of ammunition were being used, stockpiles of ammunition were dumped in pits next to the guns. Further to this, each section 9two guns) had two additional ammunition limbers towed by their own team.
Initially, the British Army divisions were equipped with three field artillery brigades, each with three batteries of six 18 Pounders. From 1917, all divisions were standardised with two artillery brigades each with three batteries (A, B, C) of six 18 Pounders and one battery of six 4.5 inch howitzers.
When war began in 1914, British field artillery stood at a ratio of 3 field guns to every field howitzer.
From 1914 to 1918, the 18 Pounder served in some of the most atrocious battles and places around the globe.
The first trials of high Explosive TNT rounds were fired in October 1914 on the Ypres sector of the front. The trials were that successful that from that period on Britain increasingly supplied the 18 Pounder with high-explosive shells. The key lesson learnt in 1914 was that positioning artillery in open ground or semi-open ground made them vulnerable to attack. Subsequently, with batteries being hidden, Observation Officer Casualties were high.
The 18 Pounder was effectively used on all fronts. At Gallipoli in 1915, 18 Pounders were manhandled to the tops of ‘400 Plateau’ and ‘Russell’s Top’. The allied batteries successfully shelled enemy parapets, barricades and positions deemed ‘safe’ by the Turks.
During the bloodiest year of the war, 1916, 18 Pounder ammunition was mainly shrapnel. In July 1916 contract prices for UK produced shells stood at 12 shillings and sixpence for High Explosive rounds and 18 shillings and sixpence for shrapnel. Prices for Canada and the United States were higher. The lowest price achieved for 18 Pounders HE shells was 8 shillings and 11pence in 1916.
By 1917 and the battles of attrition, 47,992,000 18 Pounder rounds were manufactured and 38,068,000 were fired!
In the final year of the war, ammunition requirements were predominantly shrapnel, which then moved back to equal footings between shrapnel and High Explosive.
By the armistice of November 1918, battlefield tactics involving artillery were changing. Troops were learning and being trained to avoid open terrain, light field pieces were becoming obsolete and the use of machine-guns and howitzers were taking precedence.
By November 1918, there were 3,162 18 Pounders in service on the Western Front and the gun had fired in total 99,397,670 rounds.
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CJ Kelly from the PNW on October 02, 2013:
Great article. Can't believe I missed it. Loved the detail. The 18 pounder was an iconic weapon and laid the groundwork for so many others. It's hard to fathom that 99+ million rounds were fired. Thx again.
? on October 12, 2012:
how big were the shells?
smnmcshannon (author) from England on May 22, 2011:
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Augustine A Zavala from Texas on May 20, 2011:
Fascinating. I remember seeing footage of gun crews going through piles of ammunition. The barrage must have been intense. Thank you for sharing.
kafsoa on May 19, 2011: